Nets needed this win more than Knicks

NEW YORK -- This game was once supposed to fuel banter about who runs this town and who has the better team and future.

On Tuesday night, the latest installment of Knicks-Nets felt more like a cage match between two teams desperately hoping to prove they’re not the worst team in the city. It was the NBA version of the current Giants and Jets slugging things out.

The Nets can’t beat a winning team. The Knicks just want a win. It’s another awful start for basketball in New York. But if there is one team equipped to turn their slow start around, it’s Brooklyn ... again.

Both teams needed a victory -- bad. But make no mistake, the Nets (7-9) needed this 98-93 win more than the Knicks (4-15).

With Derek Fisher learning how to coach for the first time and Phil Jackson preparing to overhaul the roster for next summer, the Knicks certainly want to win, but there’s also an understanding that they have room for error. Their focus is on the future.

This season is about learning the triangle, establishing a new culture, evaluating the roster and letting Phil execute his plan. It’s a shame to waste another season of Carmelo Anthony in his prime, but the Knicks -- who own their first-round pick next summer -- are firmly in a necessary rebuilding stage.

The Nets, however, are still designed to be a playoff team, one that might be able to make some noise if they can come together. The Nets basically have three max players, in Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, surrounded by a supporting cast that is here to win games now.

We saw a slow start coming for the Nets with yet another head coach and a new system to learn while Williams and Lopez return from surgery. The team also lost a lot of leadership and versatility with Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston gone.

But entering this game, it felt like this was more than just a slow start for the Nets. It felt like they were trying to keep things together and keep things from spiraling downward. Sources said some players were not completely on the same page with no-nonsense coach Lionel Hollins prior to the much-needed win. Coaches and players are still trying to learn each other and figure things out.

Johnson had looked and sounded miserable ever since uncharacteristically calling out the team for playing selfishly weeks ago. Lopez and Hollins have been interrogated over and over again about fourth-quarter playing time. Up to a few weeks ago, their relationship was under a microscope.

Mason Plumlee had also sounded frustrated with his role. The Nets’ tenuous state could have been exacerbated by a loss to the woeful Knicks.

The jury is still out on whether Brooklyn’s high-priced big three of Williams, Lopez and Johnson, coupled with this roster, can win the way the Nets hope. There are still questions as to whether they are a good fit for the way Hollins wants to play.

But the Knicks gave the Nets a big assist Tuesday night at MSG. Brooklyn certainly hopes the Knicks uncovered the Nets they has been waiting for.

Lopez (23 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) looked terrific early against the cross-river rivals, who sure could use Tyson Chandler inside.

“Coach has been really hard on Brook, and for the most part, he has taken it really well,” Kevin Garnett said. “He was a monster tonight. If we are going to be anything, it is because of Brook and the other guys.”

Johnson (22 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals) was everywhere and did everything from defending Melo to scoring to rebounding to cutting off passing lanes. Making Joe happy will be beneficial for Hollins and the Nets.

"I was trying to get him involved," Hollins said.

"I saw a lot of fight," the coach added about the team.

Williams was burying outside shots and shot 5-of-8 treys. Garnett got physical and exchanged words with Amar'e Stoudemire at one point, in between grabbing 13 rebounds.

“We did what we wanted to do,” Garnett said.

Sure, there were times the Nets looked shaky. They allowed a 16-point lead to dip to three on three different occasions in the final 2:25.

But Melo, playing in his second game since being sidelined with back spasms, couldn't hit the big shots that would have made the Nets nervous. Anthony didn’t look like himself and missed eight of nine shots in the fourth, including two would-be game-tying 3-pointers. The biggest miss came with less than 10 seconds remaining, as Fisher was trying to call for a 20-second timeout. Instead, Anthony ended up missing a “clean” one-on-one look against the smaller Alan Anderson.

The Knicks can live with that shot. They just won’t survive with Anthony firing blanks in the fourth quarter of a close game.

Anthony and Fisher, however, remain positive and think they aren't far from turning their fortunes around.

“The teams that we’re playing [and] losing [to], you can’t tell me that these teams are that much better than us,” Anthony said. “I really believe that. I’m going to keep believing that. We’re fighting. We’re just not getting the results.”

With LeBron and the Cavs coming to the Garden on Thursday, the Knicks might have to wait longer for another win.

The Nets, though, got what they desperately needed. This win over the Knicks means more than any bragging rights.

The victory keeps the season from potentially getting worse and gives the Nets hope of turning things around if they get their act together.